Brian Allee-Walsh

New format sets New Orleans’ Zurich Classic apart on PGA Tour

Justin Rose of England celebrates after his birdie putt on the 18th hole during the final round of the 2015 Zurich Classic in Avondale, Louisiana. Rose won the tournament. He will be back at the new-look tournament this year.
Justin Rose of England celebrates after his birdie putt on the 18th hole during the final round of the 2015 Zurich Classic in Avondale, Louisiana. Rose won the tournament. He will be back at the new-look tournament this year. Associated Press File

No matter how hard the good people associated with the Zurich Classic of New Orleans tried to upgrade their field of swingers, the annual stop on the PGA Tour usually lacked star power.

There was sizzle, just not much steak.

It would get a handful of the top-ranked players in the world but generally many of the game’s creme de la creme bypassed the Big Easy, which is one reason New Orleans produced so many first-time winners through the years.

Yes, the guys who showed up to play were good from tee to green but last year’s winner Brian Stuard, for instance, hardly moved the needle on the WOW scale.

That was then.

It’s a new day and a new 72-hole format for the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, beginning Thursday at the Pete Dye layout known as TPC Louisiana (par 72, 7,425 yards).

The new four-day format will feature 80 two-man teams playing alternate shot in the first and third rounds and best-ball in the second and fourth rounds, a format cut from the mold of the Ryder Cup and President’s Cup competitions.

After 36 holes, the field will be cut to the low 35 teams and ties for the final two rounds.

Teams to watch are Jason Day/Rickie Fowler, Henrik Stenson/Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth/Ryan Palmer, Bubba Watson/J.B. Holmes and Gary Woodland/Kevin Chappell, among others.

Day (No. 3), Spieth (No. 5), Stenson (No. 6), Rose (No. 8) and Fowler (No. 9) are listed among the world’s top-10 ranked golfers.

The winning team will split first-place money of $2,044,800 of the $7.1 million purse, still one of the largest purses on tour outside of the four major championships, The Players and four World Golf Championship events.

But the star-challenged fields in New Orleans has never been about the purse, or the host city, or the title sponsor or the Fore!Kids Foundation, which produces the annual event.

All aspects are first class.

But it has been about the course (Pete Dye designs are not for everyone). Plus, the placement of the Zurich Classic is not an ideal landing spot on the tour schedule. It falls three weeks after the Masters and two weeks before The Players and doesn’t fit into the busy schedules of some top-tier players.

That said, I applaud the Fore!Kids Foundation and the tournament’s title sponsor for agreeing to make the format change.

And though the two-man-team format may offend some golf purists, something had to be done in New Orleans to break away from the norm.

Mission accomplished.

When it comes to the PGA Tour, it now takes two to tango in New Orleans.

Brian Allee-Walsh is a long-time Saints reporter based in New Orleans. He can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.

Zurich Classic Schedule

First round: Thursday, 7 a.m.; Golf Channel (2-5 p.m.)

Second round: Friday, 7 a.m.; Golf Channel (2-5 p.m.)

Third round: Saturday, 7:30 a.m.; Golf Channel (Noon-1:30 p.m.), CBS Network (2-5 p.m.)

Championship round: Sunday, 7:30 a.m.; Golf Channel (Noon-1:30 p.m.), CBS Network (2-5 p.m.)

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